Every year as a cycling season draws to an end, an athlete usually loses the desire to pack in those heavy training hours. Whether we experienced a good racing season or not, we are usually either a little physically or mentally burnt out. Often athletes suffer from post-race depression. Your season has finished and what on earth do you do now?
Some people like to plod on and fight the guilt of succumbing to the weaker cyclist who (gasp) take a rest. If, however, you plan an off-season, I believe that you can really enjoy your time off training. You come back regenerated. You build up quickly and more often than not, you progress to a level stronger than before.
How long do I take off?
My racing season usually ends around October/November. By this time I'm really getting excited about doing well in my last races and then goofing off for a while. I take at least two weeks off completely. I visit all my friends, go to movies, irritate my family and enjoy the odd late night/early morning. I'm a big believer that one needs to take a mental break from your sport.
Involve yourself in other activities
The colder country athletes have the benefit of rumbling in the snow and changing their focus to winter activities. I try to do as many other activities as possible. I head down to the beach for some volleyball, only to be demolished by the opposition. I also love to hike, which I find is great for strength.
This year I was lucky enough to go jet-skiing with some friends. It has good upper arm benefits, but it's basically just a rip. I even did some horse-riding and attempted rock climbing, which is great for strength and suppleness. It is amazing how supple you become when you're hanging from a ledge 30m above the ground and the only other option is crash and burn.
Notice that other than the two-week 'rebel' period, I don't stop sport completely. I substitute other aerobic activities so that I don't lose all my form. It is really nice to do some non-competitive activities and to stop and smell the roses (Ha….Hachooo!).
Winter is great for strength time to head off to the warmth of the gym. Finally what you have been waiting for: The opportunity to prance around in your skimpy tights, flashing you Polar heart rate monitor (trying to look knowledgeable) and if you are really cool, wear your clear-lensed Oakleys to reduce the intensity of the fluorescent lights.
It is the ideal time to substitute some of your normal sessions with strength work. Try to build strength and correct any prominent muscle imbalances. You may feel like Pewee next to some of the muscle bound Schwartzeneggers, but have no fear! In some small way, I'm sure that they envy our little lentil-like legs and ping-pong biceps (yeah sure!).
A point of note: I often find that I am a little stiff and experience muscle fatigue during the weight-training period. It is par for the course. Be sure to stretch after the sessions. Ladies, I think that weight training is exceptionally beneficial for us. We tend to lack the natural upper body strength of our hairy counterparts.
Furthermore, try to get to the gym at least twice a week. If you do only one session per week, you seem to be sore after each session as your body adapts to the new activity and stress of the session.
Our focus during this period is not on speed or endurance. So, use the time to correct your style. Do drills in the pool and on the run. If you have access to an indoor trainer, spin on the bike to get the legs working rhythmically and efficiently.
Injuries - wooooow boy!
Now is the time to take care of any nagging aches or pains. There is no pressure to perform so take the time to heal properly. It is easier said than done, but in theory, it really makes sense. You'll bounce back quickly and you'll be grateful not to have the stress of training with discomfort or having to take a forced and longer break due to the injury.
If you want to try out new gadgets and gismos, now is the time to do it. It can cost you valuable time during the racing season if you fool around with new gadgetry and find that it doesn't suit you. We all do it, but it is silly!
Work on your weakness
It is always a pleasure to do what you are good at. The common approach is to avoid working on our weaknesses. While no one is watching (let's synchronise our watches, now!), we can secretly train our weakness to give us the edge for the next season.
Consult your logbook
You are not training as much which leaves you time to have a look at the dusty logbooks. I religiously fill in my log because I've been told that it is the professional thing to do. Well, what's the point if I never look at them again? All I've managed to do is wreck another tree and give Steadtler pencils a greater net profit.
Go back and see which sessions you enjoyed, where you think that your training helped you and where you went wrong. Use this info to plan for the next summer.
Eat the cookies, eat the cookies, eat the cookies…
"Who said that? I thought you said eat the cookies, the ice-cream and the fudge - whoops!" Have some fun, miss a couple of training sessions, be a little impulsive, eat the brandy cherries, the cream and the chocolate doofies on top.
It's OK to put on a couple of kilos in the winter. For the other nine months, you tend to be boring and compulsive about your training. The extra kilos don't feel good when you start out again, but you lose them quickly and you feel like a million dollars when you get back down to race weight. PS: Unless you intend taking up Suma Wrestling try not to pick up more than three to five kilos.
You are refreshed after your break and you are looking forward to getting back to training. There is still no rush! Hop on the bike a couple of times a week, jog lots and splash around in the pool. Use the time to enjoy your training so that when it comes time to be more serious, you are willing to commit.
Many athletes train like demons through the winter so that they can launch themselves into the new season in top form. That's the problem. They are already at the top of the mountain. They are like a car speeding along the highway. They put the clutch in to find 5th gear, but ram it into reverse. The wheels throw a wobbly and the engine blows. Start out slowly, build up nicely and enjoy the majority of the summer in good form.
Broom brooooooom…… Somebody stop me!!!!
- Kim Carter (Top South African cyclist)